Book Review: Second Foundation (Asmiov)

If you think it’s strange that I’m reviewing the third book of the original trilogy, there actually is a reason for it. This past weekend, I blazed through Foundation and Empire, and I first read Foundation years back, but since I already started Second Foundation I deemed it unfit to write about either of the other two. Plus, since I’ve just read it, I didn’t want to discuss topics or events that fall in one of the other books, or misplace events. So, without blabbering about this any longer, let’s get on with the review! I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum as best as I can, but if you haven’t read the books before this in the series, then I can’t do anything for you.

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Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1953)

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Initial Thoughts: If I remember correctly, I bought this book three or more years ago, along with the first two in the original trilogy, but never read it. I read through Foundation, thoroughly enjoyed it, but never moved onto the sequels. I think that I had it in my mind that the sequels wouldn’t be as good as the first, or I wouldn’t enjoy the story as much (a sentiment still echoed in me not having read anything other than Dune in that titular series), so it languished on my shelf for a few years. Having been back home from college this past weekend, and unable to sleep on a non-college schedule, I decided to read Foundation and Empire late one night, finished it, and packed up Second Foundation in my backpack to take back to my apartment. I was gripped by the story, and Asimov’s writing, once more, and I was excited to read again! What events would befall the First Foundation after being taken over by the Mule? How would Hari Seldon’s plan pan out over the next chuck of time leading to the second galactic empire? Why hadn’t I purchased the other books yet?

The Premise: Second Foundation starts off five years after Foundation and Empire ends with the Mule in control of the Foundation and the various trader worlds, along with a number of other systems, and Seldon’s plan has deviated, potentially irreversibly by the Mule’s actions and existence. The catch is that he knows the lore of the Foundations, and based on some mental gymnastics determined that the Second Foundation, the one barely talked about location somewhere on the other side of the galaxy, is the opposite of the first. Instead of nucleics and advanced technology, they posses the technology of the mind: psychology and in particular psychohistory. The Mule knows that this is basically the only thing that can counteract and derail his own plans at bringing about a galactic empire, so he tasks Channis (an uncontrolled individual from Terminus) and General Pritcher with determining its location and traveling there in order for the Mule to figure out what he’s up against.

Fast forward fifty years with the Mule long-dead and the Foundation returned to a relatively close track to Seldon’s original plan, but its citizens have no idea how close, if their close enough, or if their future was already pushed past the breaking point for bringing about the second galactic empire. After knowledge of the Second Foundation became relatively more widespread (relative to what was known before, which was that it existed at the other end of the galaxy), the first Foundationers decided that their best course of action was to try to develop their own fields of psychology, which had been completely absent when Hari Seldon founded the Foundation (and for good reason), in order to combat the growing threat of the Second Foundation. This is mostly carried out by a small group of individuals located on Terminus, although the inclusion of one of the member’s daughter causes its due amount of excitement and drama, especially when she needs to escape from one of the Kaligan spaceports and the ruler of Kaligan himself. Following that escape, Kaligan and the Foundation begin a large-scale war, which the Foundation eventually wins in accordance to Seldon’s Plan (as believed by the residents of the Foundation territories). Following this, they decide to fight and eradicate the Second Foundation, bringing the Foundation back to the path toward the second galactic empire and ending the original trilogy.

Final Thoughts: This book may have been my favorite of the three with Foundation being an extremely close second, especially the second half of the book. Asimov’s writing just draws you in without relying on pages upon pages of descriptions (Tolkein much?); it’s fast-paced, exceedingly interesting, and a fun story to get caught up in. At multiple points while reading, I would audibly exclaim based on what was happening in the story or a major revelation (like the last sentence of the book). The only thing I regret doing is looking at the Wikipedia page for the series before I finished the book (to check which ones I still needed to get) and caught a glimpse of the location of the Second Foundation, which partially diluted that revelation within the story line, but it didn’t dampen my enjoyment of it.

And right now, I’m back to where I was following finishing the first book. I completed the trilogy, with the prequels and sequels coming much later and only after the fans practically begged for them, so I’m worried that they may feel like the Star Wars prequels to me. I’m sure that I’ll buy them, read them, and enjoy them, but I just don’t know when.

Looking back, I think my return to this series came from my changing sci-fi tastes. Back when I first realized that the sweet books about space travel and alien worlds were actually part of an entire genre of literature, I was all about the grand-scale space operas and far reaching stories. I loved Stargate, Star Wars, Ender’s Game and the sequels, etc. for the range of stories that they contained and the imaginative worlds that the characters went to. Then, during the break in Stargate‘s Season 10 run, I started watching Battlestar Galactica which now ranks with The Office as my top favorite show, and around the same time I started reading Ben Bova, who has become possibly my favorite author. I fell in love with the gritty realism, the relative plausibility of the actions (BSG‘s setting still fell into the “space opera”-esque realm, but the human dynamics entrapped me more), and the connection of themes to current events or modern ideas. Now, I think I may be switching back to the first group with the Foundation series and the change in my video game plans, but I don’t mind. The next book I’m reading is actually Ben Bova’s Mars Life, so I may just be merging the two groups.

I will say that, no matter what sci-fi mood I may be in at any point, I will always enjoy the original Foundation trilogy.

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